Talk to anyone in Cambodia’s telecommunications service provider (TSP) industry and they’ll admit that it has been a fierce fight to get to where they are now.
Cambodia, like many less developed countries, leapfrogged to mobile communications because the fixed-line communications network was so poor. Development has been rapid. As recently as 2008 the Post reported mobile penetration of around 18 per cent. Today, according to independent analysts, make that 118 per cent – or perhaps even more.
In reality, the percentages and the numbers depend on who is counting. But, however they are counted, the number of mobile subscriptions add up to a number greater than the Kingdom’s population today. Estimates of SIM subscriptions put the total at 19 million to 20 million, while the population is estimated at around 15.3 million.
That does not mean that everybody in Cambodia is mobile-connected – or even less so that they all have smartphones – but it does mean that the majority of Cambodians have mobile devices (even if it is an old Nokia or Samsung, good only for calls and texting), and a certain percentage of the population have more than one device.
The race that is on now may not be – as some industry insiders put it, off the record – one to see who is “the last man standing”. But it is certainly a race towards consolidation, as increasing consumer demands for faster data speeds and great infrastructure investment. In total, the government of Cambodia has issued 11 mobile network licences. In 2012, there were eight players active in the market; today, in 2014, there are six. In this telecoms special, we talk to some of the players about their strategies for dealing with such a fiercely competitive market – in what, as Smart CEO Thomas Hundt succinctly put it, is ultimately a “numbers game”.